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Artist Julie Rogers Experience with Painting Emma Hale Smith

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Julie Rogers LDS Artist

Julie Rogers is an artist from Glendale, Utah. She started drawing in kindergarten and painting in 6th grade. Julie went on to study art at Brigham Young University. Her work focuses on historical figures, pioneers, ancestors or people who have passed away. She explains her art is like having a visual for your genealogy. Julie has the unique gift of painting by the spirit, which enables her to capture the persona of the subject. She explains it is much like doing Family History work. As you research and document an ancestor’s life, your hearts turn to that ancestor. You feel them near and feel their spirit and personality and come to know them.

About three or four years ago, an impression came to Julie. This impression gave her a strong desire to paint Emma Hale Smith, the wife of the prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith Jr. Julie wanted her painting to capture a certain feeling about Emma, reflecting who she really was.

Julie pondered this idea over a two-year period. She had a friend who knew Gracia Jones, one of Emma’s first descendents to join the LDS church. This friend took Julie to Gracia’s home, where Julie told Gracia about her impression and desire to paint Emma. She explained to Gracia that she knew that others had painted Emma and had done a marvelous job. However Julie wanted to be paint Emma in a unique way that would show her true personality and strong faith. She wanted her work to capture the feeling of knowing Emma, not just paint another Emma. Julie hoped this painting would touch people’s hearts giving them the desire to know Emma better. Gracia gave Julie a photograph of Emma holding her baby, David Hyrum Smith. This photograph was taken five months after the martyrdom of her husband, Joseph. In this photograph, Emma’s eyes are full of sorrow. Emma’s granddaughter recorded in her journal that Emma’s eyes never smiled after Joseph died.

Another year passed before Julie actually began the process of putting paint on canvas. During this year, she studied about Emma. She also did a lot of praying to help her represent Emma well. In that time, Julie felt Emma close and grew to love her.

Finally Julie felt ready to start the painting process. She began by using the photograph Gracia gave to her. Julie began the project of Emma and another one of Joseph at the same time. She started with Emma. As she began to paint while studying the photograph, she had a very unexpected experience. It was as if someone turned on a light and took her out of a dark room. Julie felt as if some of Emma’s pain and sorrow washed over the top of her and she said it was almost as if she felt a little bit of what Emma had gone through for the Restoration. She felt Emma’s powerful faith and incredible strength.

The feelings were so overwhelming for Julie that she had to quit painting Emma. She set the project aside it for a few days. As she thought about the experience, she realized there was no way she could really feel what Emma went through. However, the small portion she did feel caused her to put the Emma painting aside. Julie thought she was not going to be able to paint Emma after all. As she continued to ponder, she realized that maybe part of the reason she had the experience was because of her intense desire to not just paint one more image of Emma. Julie had researched Emma’s life. She took measurements from the photograph and studied Emma’s bone structure and eyes. She searched and had found a model whose bone structure was close to her bone structure. Since the model didn’t have eyes similar to Emma’s, Julie used the photograph as a model for the eyes. Julie wanted this painting to be like her so through it, we would know Emma.

Meanwhile Julie went on to start painting Joseph. She used his death mask and a model that who was similar. Painting Joseph, he was not easy, but Julie was successful in beginning his project. After she worked on Joseph for a while, she had the distinct impression to go back to painting Emma. As she followed this thought, she was able to successfully work on Emma. She found this was how she could paint Emma. She had to go back and forth, painting on Joseph for a while and then return and paint Emma. Then she would go back to work on Joseph and then back to Emma. Julie ended up finishing Emma first. This process of having to go back and forth from one painting to the other was a wonderful experience for Julie. Through it, she came to know they are not one without the other. Emma and Joseph are unified and together. The feelings Julie felt about Emma individually as she first began that painting was a personal experience that taught Julie, that Joseph and Emma are united, working together as this work goes forward. Truly they are not one without the other.

Through this painting experience, Julie felt that Emma wanted us to know that she is okay. That she is the elect lady the scriptures say she is. The feeling in Emma’s face in the painting shows that. At the time Julie was painting Emma, she was unaware that prejudices existed toward Emma. So it is interesting that the other feeling that came to her was a longing that as people looked into Emma’s eyes, they would know she is indeed an elect lady. The name of the painting is “All Things Dear.” Symbolized by Emma touching the beads that Joseph gave her. Emma wore these beads for the rest of her life. In the background of the painting is the Nauvoo temple representing the covenants that Emma received and then passed down to all the women in the church. The orange in the painting represents the fire of the covenant. Emma’s eyes are looking right into the viewer’s eyes showing that we are all tied to her and to the gospel of Jesus Christ through these covenants. Through this project, Julie developed a love for Emma and wanted to paint more of her. Julie felt humbled and overwhelmed to think she could paint something that would help people to know, respect, love and understand Emma. She felt she was guided to be able to accomplish that goal.

In early September, Julie came to a meeting of the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society. Many of Joseph and Emma’s posterity were at the meeting including Gracia. Julie presented the paintings of Emma and Joseph to the family and the historical society and shared her experience while painting them. She was happy the family seemed pleased with the images and especially the image of Emma. This brought Julie joy because her desire was to paint Emma with feeling and she knew she could not do that without help from the Spirit. She hopes the family will use the painting as they see best to help with their mission of gathering Joseph and Emma’s posterity. Julie knows she painted these images for a purpose even though she doesn’t yet know what. She does know the Lord inspired her to paint them.

As Julie painted Joseph, she wanted to portray a gentle man who had an inner knowledge of who he was, a prophet called by God. In the painting there is a radiance coming from within Joseph based on the many quotes of people who knew him and wroteEmma about the way he seemed to radiate or shine. Julie wanted the painting to represent Joseph as very fun loving and kind, while still reflecting this radiance from deep inside. The casualness of his dress and stance represent his warm personality and fun loving nature. Joseph is looking westward because of his knowledge as the prophet of the future. Julie hopes Joseph’s eyes reveal he knows much, much more. This painting was called “Looking Westward” but the name was changed to “The Seer” because this title gave the viewer a more private interpretation of Joseph.

As Julie set the two paintings together, the feeling came again to her that they are not one without the other, which led to a third painting of the two of them together, called “Eternally Bound.” Julie used the same models for this third painting. This time her goal was for her painting to show the love they have for each other and that their love is eternal. The feeling she wanted to portray was the feeling she felt when she completed Emma, that they are not one without the other. They go together. Joseph truly loved Emma, and this work reveals a tenderness demonstrating Joseph’s great love for his beloved wife. In this painting they are united, “Eternally Bound” together.

These paintings are available through the JSEHS Historical Society online store. To order click on the “On Line Store” tab.